The Long Road Home

I took the opportunity to relax after the constant travelling of the previous days.  Since I usually go later in the season, all of the work preparing the cottage is done before I arrive.  I half expected to be putting long hours helping to get the cottage ready for the summer but fortunately I had arrived too early.  Darn.  So I had a few days to do nothing at all.  The boys “helped” grandpa as he puttered around and if grandma sat on the couch, well Piper was right there with her.

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Dock life.

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The boys helping grandpa.

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Piper in full cottage mode.

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Ever have that feeling you’re being watched?

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It took forever to get this.

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The view from the cottage.

Since my grandparents live so close to the Canada/U.S. border, they do the majority of their shopping in Rousseau, Minnesota.  A couple days after I arrived, grandpa went to buy some groceries and came back with an interesting story that the border guards told him: a car with Ontario plates had some crazy story about driving up from Louisiana and going back to Ontario.  Apparently they thought they had a real live wire of a car and that something was being smuggled because the story just didn’t make sense.  Until the driver mentioned where they were going.  I had no idea I had caused such a stir but I’m glad that I gave some folks some entertainment.  I know that they had told my grandpa this because he told me parts of the conversation that I hadn’t told them about.

Soon enough, the rest was over and it was time to return to real life.  I packed up the car, said goodbye to my grandparents, and we hit the road.  We weren’t on the road long before I decided I needed something to eat.  Not quite sure why, I just did.  So we stopped at Nite Hawk Cafe in Whiteshell Provincial Park.  I ordered a cup of coffee and the buffalo chicken wrap which came with fries.  The wrap was really good with enough spice from Frank’s Red Hot to just balance out the twang of blue cheese.  After the food, we took a much deserved walk through a trail that starts at the parking lot.  When the footing started to get really sludgey, we turned around and got back in the car.

Normally when I start to feel the mid-drive slump around Vermilion Bay, I stop at the Comfort Table Bakery but this time the neighbouring Fort Vermilion was open.  My eye was caught by the signs that said “dog-friendly”.  Well we had to check out what that means.  True to it’s name it is built exactly like a fort, complete with a wooden palisade  There is a cafe and a gift shop and places to sit inside as well as a covered patio.  There’s also a playground inside so it’s a great spot to stop for kids to burn off some pent up energy.  The dogs were allowed inside the fort but not inside the buildings.  But they do have trails that lead out of the back of the fort so we took the opportunity to go for a stretch and burn off our pent up energy.  The terrain was just rough enough to be interesting but did not require huge feats of athleticism.  It’s a nice place to stop if you’re passing through, especially if you have children.

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Fort Vermilion.

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The view from the top.

I had foolishly hoped that we would be able to camp but more rain and falling temperatures dashed any chances of that happening.  I was able to get a room at Voyageur Motel and even though it’s not in the nicest part of Thunder Bay, it was clean and served our purposes just fine.  The only complaint that I had was that the walls seemed to be a bit thin.  I heard some, shall we say, unusual sounds when we were getting settled and seeing Piper looking in the same direction, I obviously wasn’t hearing things.  Part of me wanted to go banging on their door and either ask to turn the volume down on what sounded like an adult movie or find the woman who sounded like she was starring in said movie and tell her that if he was really worth the noise, they’d have been done by now.

When I woke up the next day, it was raining even harder than it had been the day before.  The drive between the Thunder Bay and home can be done in either one long drive or over two days.  I figured that since the weather was so yucky, I would try and do it in one unless we were able to get away from the clouds that seemed intent on following us.

I drove around Thunder Bay looking for a place to get breakfast but since it was a Monday, most places were locked up.  I was going to eat at a place that was highly recommended called Hoito but the line of people told me it wasn’t going to be a quick stop and with the rain continuing to fall, I’d be stuck either leaving the dogs in the car or eating in the car.  Luckily there was a cafe just up the street called Calico Coffeehouse.  It’s a really cute space and the morning glory muffin was outstanding with a good americano to wash it all down.

Aside from a few short walks in the break in the rain, we stayed in the car.  I did see a moose on the side of the road and stopped to take a photo and hopefully scare it away from the road.  Yes you read that right: I wanted to scare it away from the road.  Highway 17 is a major road and the thought of the moose wandering in front of a car had me scared.  Fortunately my little car standing on the shoulder seemed to make it wander farther into the bush.moose

I had to stop for gas in Wawa and that was when I realized that I had never seen the Canada Goose in Wawa.  It’s a large statue of a Canada Goose at the visitors centre as you drive into town.  I’m not going to lie: the thing creeped me out a bit.  I think it’s the eyes.  But then we stopped at Mina’s Kitchen, a trailer on the side of the road.  I ordered the burger with bacon and cheese and fries.  They were very good.  It helped to get over the goose’s creepy factor.

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It’s all in the eye…

Finally the rain stopped and I pulled off the highway to let the dogs run along the shore of Lake Superior.  Even though it was mid-May, there were still piles of snow in the shady spots.  I was engrossed with trying to climb some rocks when I happened to look behind me and saw an older gentleman with his dog.  I was somewhat stumped.  I mean, there were plenty of places for him to stop and he happened to stop right where I was to let his dog out.  And seeing as his dog wasn’t the friendliest, I couldn’t figure it out.  Unless he was just looking for someone to talk to.  We exchanged pleasantries and then we climbed back into the car.  snow

And then as we were passing through Sault Ste. Marie, I saw three giant cows.  Yes giant cows.  And a sign that said “Holy Cow’s Ice Cream”.  You know I stopped.  And you know I left with an ice cream cone of chocolate peanut butter and salted caramel.  After that was the long push home.

You know when you’re getting close to your destination and you just want to get there so you don’t stop (because you’re full of ice creamy goodness) except for gas and pee breaks?  That was the last bit of this trip.

At 1:25 am we arrived home after driving 9093.2 km.  As one person put it, the ending was bittersweet.  I was glad to be home and glad that we had arrived safely.  I was glad that we have been able to share this trip.  But there’s always that bit of sadness that comes with the end of each trip.

And even though the inspiration had been “Feasting on Asphalt”, I was happy that I hadn’t re-created the trip, that I had found different places, walked different trails.  Even with the ticks and the rain and the flooding and the nights spent in the car, it was a trip that can only be described as epic.

Oh speaking of ticks, don’t think that I escape completely unscathed.  I thought I had managed to avoid all ill-effects since the heads of the ticks were so tiny.  Well I was wrong.  Little red marks soon turned into small itchy swellings.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in your chair at work and trying to scratch a tick bite on your backside and hip.  I must have looked like a dog scooting my butt in the chair.  It does make for some interesting conversations with co-workers that’s for sure.

Back into Canada

Day 11

Starting mileage: 7755.8

When I went to the lobby to check out, I was really surprised that the Knight’s Inn had free breakfast.  It was your standard continental breakfast with very little in the fruit department but that didn’t stop me from making mini wafflewiches with jam.  I actually ate a couple of yogurt cups as I waited for my mini waffles (so cute) to cook.  I decided to try the coffee and it was horrendous.  Fortunately Bully Brew Coffee House was a few minutes away.  And I mean come on!  How could I not stop at a coffee house that is practically themed around a bulldog?  There were even little samples of dog treats.  Jack liked them.  Piper sniffed then gingerly nibbled one.  Leo the little vacuum that he is? turned his nose up at it.  Cheeky monkey.

It was a relatively short trip to the border at Pembina.  And here is something funny: I stopped at the duty free because I told some friends I would grab them something.  The duty free shop is actually quite a distance from the actual border.  So I saunter on in and take my items to the counter.  I pay for it then have to give my license plate to the woman at the counter who also takes my purchase.  Because the store is so far from the border, you pick and pay for your things there but then actually pick them up from a trailer actually at the border.  I had quite a time trying to wrap my little brain around that.  She explained that they have to be able to actually see you cross the border with your things.  It makes sense but just seems like such a cumbersome process.

So I’m waiting in line and pull up to the booth and the gentleman working in there starts asking me the usual questions but he’s facing his computer screen so I couldn’t hear a thing he was saying which meant that he had to repeat himself with every question.  I could see him getting frustrated and I was getting frustrated but it’s like “Dude look at me when you’re talking!  You’re in a little glass house and I’m in a car with my windows open and the wind and the cars so don’t get all pissy with me!”  Inside voice folks.

This was a different route to my grandparents so I was able to see slightly different parts of Manitoba.  I also got hungry.  So hungry that I pulled over onto the shoulder and started shoving the last of the pizza down my face hole.  That’s one reason why I think pizza is the ultimate road food: every town has a pizza place, it’s often the only place open late, they usually deliver, and you can eat it the next day no matter where you are.

Soon, I turned down the road my grandparent’s place.  It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly the dogs know where they are.  Jack and Piper have been there a few times before but our visits are a year a part.  I was a few kilometres away when I noticed that I could hear a slight whine and some panting from the back seat.  I snuck a quick peek and there’s Piper staring out the window and getting all antsy.  She only gets like that when she knows she’s going somewhere fun, like the pet store or the vet (seriously she LOVES the vet).  Jack and Leo were also wiggling around in their harnesses.

When we parked, I had a hard time undoing everyone from the car.  I just had enough time to stand aside and let the bounding mass of canine run up to see my grandparents.

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Jack and Leo checking out the dock.  Piper was digging in the sand next to me.

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The lake at sunset.

That night we cracked into the Fraidy Cat wine from Oz Winery.  It’s a Kansas muscat and has the sweetness that I expect from that varietal.  It was more of a dessert wine and was almost ice wine sweet though lacking in the syrupy mouthfeel.  Does it sound like I know what I’m talking about?

We also had some chocolate from the box that I had bought in Michigan at the Chocolate Garden.  I’m actually a little surprised that I was able to keep my paws off of them.  I guess when you keep stopping for donuts and pie you can avoid the chocolate.

Time for a Rest

August 29, 2015

I could not leave that campsite fast enough. Over the past few days I’d gotten pretty good at breaking camp so this was a whirlwind tear down. I even set my alarm and was up before it went off. Awake and on the road.  No time to eat, I’d do it later.  I put food out for the dogs while I packed but they seemed just as eager to get going as I was.

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Starting mileage. It’s a little fuzzy. I was in a rush to get started.

A few hours down the road and I stopped at the Red Barn just in Moosinin (I think that’s how it’s spelled) and ordered a meat lover scramble. When I picked up the box, I almost dropped it because it was so heavy.  I sat in the passenger seat with the door propped open and the leashes clipped to my sandal so the dogs had a little space to move as we ate our breakfast in the lot. Well I ate and they stared at me waiting for something to drop while they ignored their bowls of food. Then a short walk around the edge of the property and back on the road.

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That’s a lot of meat. And egg. And cheese goodness.

And we drove and drove and drove. Just before Winnipeg is the statue of The White Horse. My grandparents used to live a few minutes away and I always liked to see it when I was out for a visit. So of course we had stop. You know you’re grown up and an equestrian when you look at this beautiful monument and after a few minutes start to notice conformational flaws.  Ah the passage of youth.

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The White Horse.

Hey there’s Winnipeg.  There goes Winnipeg.

At least in the southern part of Manitoba there are trees. And when you turn off the highway, it goes through a little town and the drive is going well and then wait where did the road go? And for the next 65 km it’s dirt road. No businesses. No houses. No cell signal.  The only traffic on the road is at shift change at the peat processing plant which happens twice a day.  The first time I made the drive I was so confused I thought I had missed a turn.

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The only thing you see for 65 km.

My grandparents were expecting me and were waiting on the porch when I parked the car.  I hadn’t told them about Leo and could not wait to see their reaction.  I undid everyone’s harnesses and let them jump out in one big tangle.  Piper and Jack knew exactly where they were and nearly knocked poor grandma over. Leo was right in the thick of things and he very quickly made himself right at home.

We took the next few days to relax and recharge.  And shower.